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9 September 2010

Via Media

1533 wasn't a good year for Mary Tudor. Her father married his second wife and then several months later had his marriage to Mary's mother annulled and it was less than four months later that half-sister Elizabeth arrived. Naturally, 17-year-old Mary was highly unimpressed to have her princess status withdrawn and her household reduced, all in favour of this bastard daughter of a whore. Three years later, though, the whore had been executed and the bastard was offiicially bastardised (Elizabeth remained, technically, bastard because Henry never reversed this legislation and although Mary reversed her own bastardy, Elizabeth didn't want to risk opening old wounds by making any official or legislative statement on her own legitimacy).

Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, is often credited with bringing together Henry's two daughters and fostering good relations between them. Maybe she helped or maybe Mary, by then 20 years old and despite many promised matches with a range of royal European hotties, was unhappily single and probably enjoyed mothering her much younger sister. Besides, they were both bastards then and so on equal footing and thanks, perhaps, to their new step-mother, Henry started to show them both more favour.

Catherine Parr, Henry's last wife, despite being only five years older than Mary herself, is also credited with bringing some unity to the Tudor family. The trouble started, though, after Henry died because then the sisters' younger brother Edward was king and he and those who ruled on his behalf weren't terribly keen on Catholics like Mary. Elizabeth, meanwhile, was having a whale of a time living in Chelsea with her step-mother and the step-mother's new husband, the rakish Thomas Seymour. Romps in the bedroom? Sure! Play fighting? Absolutely! Inappropriate shenanigans? Hell, yes. This was all sanctioned, though, because Elizabeth and her sort-of-step-father were under the watch of Catherine. Meanwhile, Catholic plots centred around getting Mary back on the throne.

Once Edward had died, very young despite not being a very sickly child, and Mary had dealt swiftly and decisively with poor Lady Jane Grey and the people truly responsible for LJG's coronation (mainly her grasping new father-in-law, also Edward's second Lord Protector, the self-proclaimed Duke of Northumberland), she set about turning back all of the reformist changes to the English church that had been brought in during the reigns of her father and brother. Naturally, then, plotters of a reformist bent (such as Thomas Wyatt the younger et al.) tended to focus on getting quietly Protestant Elizabeth back on the throne. Usually Elizabeth knew nothing of the plots until she was accused of conspiring with the rebels but that mattered little to Mary's distrustful advisors.

Perhaps Mary was too naive though. Although she was pushing 38 at the time of her coronation, she was desperate to marry and since her father preferred to let the promise of his eldest daughter serve as a more useful bargaining tool in international diplomacy than actually marrying her off, she had to organise this herself. Luckily, her cousin Charles V's son Philip was up for it (well, up for assimilating England into his evil empire) and Mary assumed children would soon follow and so she wouldn't have to worry about Elizabeth inheriting the throne.

Instead, she was more concerned about Elizabeth's soul and tried very hard to convert her to Catholicism--for her own good. This drove Mary's advisors crazy--as long as Elizabeth was alive, she would (willingly or otherwise) be a focus for any plots against Mary--but Mary refused to condemn Elizabeth to death no matter how badly Elizabeth's actions seemed to contravene her own beliefs. Specifically, why wouldn't Elizabeth go to mass? In her own reign, Elizabeth tended to follow the "via media" (middle road) in terms of religious policy--going back to a sort of reformist church but not to the extent of Edward's reign.

Ultimately, though, Elizabeth was a politician and after years of arguments and tantrums, she realised that if she just said the words Mary wanted to hear and do the things Mary wanted her to do, that would be enough to keep the peace. So she attended mass and although Mary's advisors said she was just going through the motions, Mary refused to believe them. Elizabeth had finally shed her stubborn shell and, in the name of just moving on, offered a compromise. Sometimes, it is the easiest thing to do.

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